Hitchcock's British Movie Career Before Hollywood

by FloraBreenRobison

Hitchcock started his movie career in his native England in silent film. The Master of Suspense started directing movies about families before moving to thrillers.

Before moving to Hollywood and gaining the nickname The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock directed in his native Britain. The thiller director started out directing comedies and dramas about family life with no sign of suspense. Even after he began directing suspense films, Hitch didn't abandon the family drama.

Hitchcock Starter His Career Experimenting With The Theme Of Family in Drama Then Mystery

Hitchcock Wasn't Always the Master of Suspense

Before he started filming exclusively in that genre, Alfred Hitchcock focused upon making dramas and comedies about family life. Although he filmed The Lodger: Story of the London Fog in 1927-a must-see for Hitchcock and thriller fans alike-he continued to direct movies outside the genre that made him famous. These include The Farmer's Wife in 1928,The Skin Game in 1929, and Juno and the Paycock in 1930. Long after his first foray into mystery and suspense in 1926, he filmed his final non-suspense movie about family in 1934: Waltzes From Vienna about the Strauss family.

Eventually, he became known in England for directing mystery and suspense films. Even then he never entirely left the importance of family out of his career. British suspense films that deal with families include the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Young and Innocent, and Jamaica Inn. The popularity of his later English movies attracted the attention of Hollywood, and he left Britain to make Rebecca in 1939.


Highlights of Hitchcock's British Suspense Films:

The Lodger: Story of the London Fog 1927

Hitchcock's silent version of the Jack the Ripper story is based upon the novel of the same name by Marie Belloc Lowndes where the killer's nickname is not "The Ripper," but "The Avenger" and the string of victims are young blond woman like the girl whose parents are renting the lodger rooms. It is the earliest must see Hitchcock of his career. You can see the beginnings of the style that would make him famous. This movie stars Marie Ault and Arthur Chesney as the landlords, June-no last name-as their daughter, and Ivor Novello as the Lodger.

This story has been filmed several times. The most star-filled cast of the studio era is from the Hollywood 1944 version starring Merle Oberon as a potential victim, George Sanders as a member of the police, Laird Cregar as The Lodger, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood as the landlords. In this version, Daisy is their maid, not their daughter.


Blackmail 1929

Blackmail was Britain's first talkie film. Even if it were not Hitchcock, the film would be a landmark. The movie stars John Longden as a police detective in love with a young women who is being blackmailed for killing the man who tried to rape her. Longden is assigned to the case. Anny Onda is the young woman and Charles Patton and-again-Sara Allgood star as her parents.


The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934

This is the original black and white version of the later colour movie that starred Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as Americans in Britain. Although Hitchcock films have been remade several times, this is the only film which  Hitchcock remade himself of his own career. He felt that he could made a better version. The 1934 version starred the great Peter Lorre in one of his first English language films-this required him to memorize his dialogue phonetically as he did not yet understand English. Lorre was one of the kidnappersLeslie Banks and Edna Best played the British couple on holiday in Switzerland whose *daughter* -not son-is kidnapped to keep them quiet about an assassination attempt on a prominent foreign dignitary. Nova Pilbream -who turned 92 in November 2011-played daughter Betty who was kidnapped. 

The 39 Steps

This spy film based upon the book by John Buchan stars Robert Donat-of Goodbye Mr. Chips fame-as a Canadian on holiday in Britain who stumbles upon an espionage ring. From that point on, he and the beautiful Madelaine Carrol must try to escape death or torture at the hands of the leader of the ring while trying to locate the Memory Man-the only honest person who knows who The 39 Steps are. They must avoid the man who is missing part of a finger-but who is he?



As the title suggests, John Loder is a Scotland Yard detective determined to find a suspected bomb that has been planted in London and dispose of it before it kills and maims people. But it could be anywhere and who knows if the person carrying it knows the danger. In fact, the unsuspecting younger brother of Sylvia Sydney has been given the package by her husband Oscar Holmoka. If only the policeman knew this, but Holmolka is the only one who knows.


Young and Innocent

This Hitchcock movie from 1937 is based upon the Josephine Tey book A Shilling for Candles. It stars Nova Pilbeam-the same actress who played Betty in the first The Man who Knew Too Much--as the daughter of Col. Percy Marmont of the law. At first she is sure that Derrick De Marney is guilty of killing the woman he stands accused of murdering by strangulation, despite his protests that his raincoat was stolen. When he escapes and takes Nova with him in pursuit of his raincoat and the man he says is the real killer, she starts to believe him. But where is the man with the eye tick? Will they find him before the police catch up to him and add kidnapping of Nova to the murder charge?


The Lady Vanishes

Based upon the novel-also known as The Wheel Spins- by popular horror writer Ethel Lina White: Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, and Dame May Whitty-the title character-all meet each other in the hotel before they board a train on the continent. Early in the voyage, Lockwood sees something she wasn't meant to see-a German nun kidnaps Whitty and proceeds to camouflage her identity. Lockwood tries desperately to prove that she is not imagining things and the old woman is in grave danger. But the only person who believes her is Redgrave. Will they be able to save her?

Based on the era in which the movie was filmed, the fictional country that kidnapped the Lady is fleshed out to resemble Nazi Germany. A non-Hitchcock film is later filmed as a sequal to The Lady Vanishes in 1940-Night Train To Munich more fully develops the Nazi angle. Once again, Margaret Lockwood played the leading lady.

Jamaica Inn

This was the final movie Hitchcock filmed before sailing to Hollywood and that fateful contract with David O. Selznick. This 1939 movie stars Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara as an uncle and niece in 1800 Cornwall at a hotel called Jamaica Inn. Based upon the Daphne Du Maurier book by the same name, it was perhaps the weakest of the three Du Maurier-Hitchcock collaborations. The basis for the intrigue is the realization O'Hara gets that the inn of her aunt and uncle is no ordinary inn-it is the basis of a smuggling ring, and Laughton is plays a large fish in gang of thieves.

Hitchcock's British Movie Career

Highlighted Films
The Lodger


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Hitchcock's British Career


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Hitchcock's British Career

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Complete Chronological List of Hitchcock's Full-length British Mysteries and Thrillers

Before Hollywood and Rebecca Beckoned

The Mountain Eagle 1926

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog 1927

The Ring 1927

Downhill 1927

Easy Virtue 1928

Blackmail 1929

Murder! 1930 aka Mary 1931 German language version

Number Seventeen

The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934

The 39 Steps 1935

Secret Agent 1936

Sabatage 1936

Young and Innocent 1937

The Lady Vanishes 1938

Jamaica Inn 1939

Hitchcock's British Career

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, Alfred Hitchcock)

VHS VIDEO! The Man Who Knew Too Much (Original 1934 Version, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) Recorded in EP Mode! Alfred Hitchcock himself called this 1934 British edition of his ...


Claire Greet Appeared in More Hitchcock Movies Than Any Other Actress

Her Roles Were Generally Bit Parts and Extra Casting for Crowd Scenes

Who appeared in Hitchcock films the most often overall when including scenes when they actor doesn't speak at all? If referring to appearances, period, Hitchcock himself appeared the most often himself: the director made a status symbol out of appearing in cameos. They started out as a way to add to crowd scenes. However, one actress made more appearances in Hitchcock films than any other collaborator.

Claire Greet appeared in *seven* Hitchcock films in Britain, giving her the record for most collaborations with the great director. They were only bit parts, but they usually had a name:

Number 13 1922

The Ring 1927-Fortune Teller

The Manxman 1929-Mother

Murder! 1930 aka Mary 1931 in Germany-Jury Member

The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934-Mrs. Brockett

Sabatage 1936-Mrs. Jones, the Cook

Jamaica Inn 1939-His tenant

Links to Alfred Hitchcock and Claire Greet

Alfred Hitchcock's career in chronological order

Claire Greet's career of 18 years

Updated: 05/21/2012, FloraBreenRobison
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FloraBreenRobison on 08/25/2012

Hey, Justin. Yes, anything Hitchcock is something I need to see. There are still some I haven't seen of his, most of those are pre-talkies. I have indeed read your article on Sabotage, a film I've seen several times.


PDXJPrice on 08/25/2012

Interesting, Flora. You and I seem to have a penchant for Hitchcock, much like Hitchcock had a penchant for blonde leading ladies. Interesting hub, and a good highlight of some of his lesser known films. you've read my article on sabotage, haven't you?

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